Achieving Net-Zero Energy Buildings

Achieving truly energy-efficient buildings requires a holistic understanding of energy consumption. It’s tempting to jump straight to on-site renewables when seeking to improve the energy performance of a building, but this can often mean more impactful and simpler measures are missed. Mark Harris from Kingspan Insulated Panels explains the need for a smart balance between insulation and generation to achieve Net-Zero Energy, and how following the process correctly can lead to a compelling business case for efficiency investment.

At Kingspan, we define Net-Zero Energy as when a business generates as much energy as it consumes in a year across its aggregated estate. Becoming a Net-Zero Energy (NZE) business is an eminently achievable aim that more and more successful businesses are adopting. There are certainly compelling reasons for all businesses to consider working towards Net-Zero. There are the obvious environmental and green credential benefits of being energy neutral, as well as the future-proofed compliance with ever more stringent building regs, but there is also a starker economic case that supports the Net-Zero argument.

For starters, NZE businesses benefit from greatly reduced energy costs. With traditional grid-based prices predicted to soar over the coming decades, and the average half-hourly metered customer (effectively any medium-sized business or larger) consuming over a million kWh per year1, finding ways to reduce dependence on external electricity supplies could have a massive impact on the bottom line of UK plc. Our studies have shown that British businesses could save £5bn per year in energy bills2 if they adopted Kingspan Energy’s commercial rooftop solar PV technology alone.

There is also the issue of business continuity. With concerns about grid capacity shortfalls and geopolitical tensions, mitigating energy risk represents good corporate governance in the 21st century, and becoming a NZE business is a sure-fire way to improve energy security.

Clearly then, there are a lot of benefits to adopting a NZE model. But a note of caution; the NZE model only delivers on its promises when it is done properly. There is often a temptation to invest heavily in renewable energy generation, particularly where energy efficiency measures are seen as a PR story. While on-site renewables are an important part of the full NZE journey, they must be incorporated as part of a broader look at energy efficiency in the premises.

At Kingspan, we follow a defined three-step process to help our customers, and ourselves, to achieve NZE. While the process is always the same, the measures taken will vary widely depending on the context of the building; its location, climate, orientation, size, usage and future plans. Simplified, the process is as follows:

  1. EnvelopeFirst and Optimised Building Services

The first step is to minimise building energy use through optimising insulation and airtightness performance of the building envelope for its intended life, while also ensuring that process equipment and building services, including lighting, are geared to energy efficient operation.

  1. Insulate & Generate

The second stage further reduces the building’s consumption through additional enhancements to its fabric, while renewable energy systems are added to further reduce its overall energy footprint. Low or zero carbon technologies, such as rooftop solar PV, thermal air heating, wind or heat pump systems, are generally considered at this stage.

  1. Net-Zero Energy Buildings

The final stage ensures that the overall annual performance of the building balances out. This usually involves enhancing the on-site renewable energy producing technologies, and may require investment in off-site energy saving schemes.

Follow the process correctly, and it is possible to achieve Net-Zero Energy for almost any building. Indeed, with the right planning, it is possible to determine the cost-optimal route to NZE, balancing initial capital cost with lifetime operational costs to determine the most appropriate measures to undertake.

This isn’t just theory. The Kingspan Group has committed to becoming a Net-Zero Energy business by 2020, and we have already undertaken extensive refurbishments to our buildings here in the UK to make progress towards our target.

At our HQ, in Kingscourt, County Cavan, Ireland, we have replaced existing façade sections with improved insulated panels technology, installed discreet rooftop solar PV panels and thermal air ducts, and upgraded the facility’s lighting to a smart LED system, among other measures. This refurbishment is just one more stage in our journey to Net-Zero Energy at the site, but we’re already reaping huge benefits from the work. The upgraded lighting system alone has already reduced the building’s lighting electricity demand by 80%.

Across the globe, our efforts have already ensured 18% of our total estate energy demand was met by renewable sources in 2013, up from 9% in 2012, with a significant further increase expected in 2014. Add in work recently undertaken, including energy efficiency investments totalling £1.75m at our UK facilities, in Holywell and Sherburn, and projects we have planned over the coming years at our other sites worldwide, and the cumulative impact on our business will be enormous.

You only have to travel around the UK looking at our existing building stock to see the cost saving potential of energy efficiency installations for UK businesses. Factor in that British businesses spend approximately £20bn every year on electricity alone3, and that prices are expected to increase by a cumulative annual growth rate of over 3% from now until 20304, and you have a powerful motivation for businesses to demand Net-Zero Energy refurbishments. It’s important that the construction industry is on hand to meet those demands.


1 – DECC Sub-national Electricity Consumption Statistics December 2013 (2012 data), p. 17, table 4

2 – ‘Cutting Costs: The Energy Potential of UK Commercial Rooftops’ Study by Kingspan Energy, p.7, table 4

3 – ‘Cutting Costs: The Energy Potential of UK Commercial Rooftops’ Study by Kingspan Energy, p.5, table 2

4 – Updated energy and emissions projections 2014 Annex M: Price Growth Assumptions. Reference Scenario September 2014


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